Love’s Dog – Jen Hadfield

Love’s Dog

What I love about love is its diagnosis
What I hate about love is its prognosis

What I hate about love is its me me me
What I love about love is its Eat-me/Drink-me

What I love about love is its petting zoo
What I love about love is its zookeeper – you

What I love about love is its truth serum
What I hate about love is its shrinking potion

What I love about love is its doubloons
What I love about love is its bird-bones

What I hate about love is its boil-wash
What I love about love is its spin-cycle

What I loathe about love is its burnt toast and bonemeal
What I hate about love is its bent cigarette

What I love about love is its pirate
What I hate about love is its sick parrot

Jen Hadfield

Analysis

Let me begin by asking you a question. What are the things you love and what are the things you hate? List them on a piece of paper for notes on this poem before you go into any kind of detail on it. Then, when that is done have a think about how you could add a few words to each. Consider the last line of this poem where it says “what I hate about love is its sick parrot.” If on your list it says “I hate school” you could add to it the words “what I hate about school is its rigid coffin” to represent just how we as teachers make you stick to times and attitudes and “because I said do it” attitudes. Try to do that with each of the loves and hates on your list and you can then make up your own version of this poem. That is what I would do as a writing activity if I was teaching this.

My students now know what is coming. Ha!

But what does this poem say about the poet’s hates and loves? Well, it says a lot about what she likes and does not like but also a lot about her attitude to life. She has a vast knowledge of history and life to be able to find examples for each one of her pet hates and loves. She begins by letting us all know that she loves something. Note please, that the love comes first. One could argue that this is because love is better than hate and that she does this at first, for a reason, or because normal ways of thinking make us think of good before evil, or bad. We tend to think in positive terms before we think in terms of negative, but this poet subverts that later in the poem, as we shall see.

She says “what I love about love is its diagnosis,” which in essence, is a strange one. How can we diagnose love? Love is not a disease after all, unless you are one of those people whose glass is half empty rather than half full.

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She is saying that what she loves is the way we can say that there is nothing wrong with us, for we are in love. But then she goes for the polar opposite in saying “what I hate about love is its prognosis.” Now, a diagnosis is when we say what is wrong with someone; Cancer, Appendicitis etc. A prognosis is where we say what the outcome should be, where we say to a terminal Cancer patient that they only have six months to live. Now this is where the title, for me, comes into play, because the phrase “Love’s Dog” makes me think of something I learnt from a Facebook friend recently when he said that the “Black Dog” has returned. Knowing he has two cats got me all concerned, so I commented underneath and then he explained that the “Black Dog” phrase was in fact, a metaphor for depression. With that in mind, it is possible to see that “Love’s Dog” may represent the depression that love can bring, when it is going wrong, or when those moments come where we are unable to do or get what we want and feel hemmed in by the fact that we are not single any more.

The poet then says, again in rhyming couplet form, “what I hate about love is its me me me” which is an easy one to consider because there is nothing worse than being so self centred that love suffers. Some folk, in relationships, want it all their own way. They want everything to go their way, be for them, about them, as a result of them. They are so caught up in their own little lives that they fail to think about others. This person hates such people, but what she loves “about love is its Eat-me/Drink-me,” where the relationship is a two way one, where love is equal and fair and equitable. That is love as it should be. That is the message being shared here.

But then we get the words, “what I love about love is its petting zoo” followed closely by “what I love about love is its zookeeper – you.” Again, using a rhyming couplet and sticking to a rhyme scheme helps the reader to be able to read the poem easily enough, but what does it mean? A petting zoo is a place of love, a place where fondness and affection can be shared with animals and each other. That fondness and softness is the thing that the poet is saying should be seen in any loving relationship. But the love she has is for the person on the other end of the relationship. The word “you” is one that can be used to a single person and that is how it is meant here, originally, but it is also a word that can be used collectively as well, where a group of people can have the word used on them. Think of a classroom situation where a teacher says “what I want you to do now is….” and that is where this is being used.

Is this the same here? Can this be used in this way, in any way close to it?

And so the love-in continues with her saying “what I love about love is its truth serum,” which is easy enough to understand; let’s all tell the truth to each other in our relationships. But then she adds, “what I hate about love is its shrinking potion.” Does this sound rather odd in a way? Does it sound confusing? It is not meant to. A lie shrinks the truth in any situation. A lie spoils a relationship. A lie makes it so that only half truths are being shared with our loved ones. Does this make you think of one other poem in your anthology? If so, make a note of that for the exam.

“What I love about love is its doubloons” is perhaps, for me, the best part of this poem. A doubloon, for those that do not know, is a very old form of coin or treasure. We hear all the time of treasure being dug up from old wrecks that contain doubloons and because they are precious metals, they are expensive to buy. This is another example of what she loves about love, how love is precious, how it can be expensive [in money and effort] to keep going but how it is all the more worth it for those who try. But the next line is an odd one to be sure, for when she says “what I love about love is its bird-bones,” we are left to wonder just what she might mean by this. Personally, when I think of bird bones, I think of their strength but also of their frailty, so when I see this line, it makes me ponder on how strong love can be but also how frail it can be. The use of metaphor in this way is so powerful.

Have you noticed the rhyme scheme changing in the poem yet? It is not held throughout the poem. Is this because she ran out of words when trying to make something rhyme with “wash” in this next line, where we are sat there thinking, as poets, about how stuck we are? She states “what I hate about love is its boil-wash” and then couples that with “what I love about love is its spin-cycle.” There is no way to rhyme those lines up but the two lines now link up. One end of the line is about what I know to be a “Number 1 wash” that takes forever to wash. If you start a number 1 off with our washing machine, it is a case of do something else for about two hours and then come back to it as it is just finishing shrinking your clothes. But the spin cycle is something else entirely, at the end of the wash where the clothes are being wrung within an inch of their life and the door is about to open, ready for the clothes to be hung up. With that in mind, consider how she uses it to represent love, in that love can be long and drawn out, something that takes time to master. For her, that is something she hates. This is a person who wants immediate satisfaction in life. She wants the instant tea, instant coffee, instant gratification and love sometimes does not work like that.

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As we near the end of the poem, we see these words: “what I loathe about love is its burnt toast and bonemeal” and “what I hate about love is its bent cigarette.” You could argue metaphors are being used throughout, or half metaphor if you like,  because she is not saying “love is” something else but the use of the images of burnt toast, bonemeal and a bent cigarette are powerful images indeed. Burnt toast tastes horrible. Bonemeal, I am sure, will be equally the same. But for me, the image of the bent cigarette is the most powerful for it represents how the male libido [or the woman’s I am sure] can wane with time, or with neglect, making it so that sexual arousal cannot be achieved and when that hits a relationship, there can be issues that come next for any couple.

Finally, we see the last couplet, where a near rhyme is used when we see these words: “what I love about love is its pirate.” A pirate has been portrayed in film and art as a villain but a romance has arisen around the pirate. Think of Captain Jack Sparrow here and think about how the ladies in the stories swoon at him. Yes, they slap him from time to time, but they also love and adore him because he is a mischief at all times, especially with them.

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But what happens when that pirate romance turns sour? It leaves us with the idea of love being like a “sick parrot.” A sick bird is a terrible sight indeed, a painful time for the owner, or in the case of love, the partner. When love turns sour, it becomes sick, so you can now see why the poet uses the image.

So, although this is a poem about love within relationships, it is also about the duality of love and hate within that relationship. To some that will sound odd, especially the young. If you love someone, then it will be perfect. That is a rose tinted image of love and relationships, but I can tell you, they are hard work to maintain. The very reason why so many people meet someone, live with them and then break up after 6 months is because they have not got the patience, or the love in the right amounts, to forgive their partner when they do something wrong. Love is kind and generous and giving, yes. But love is also something that makes us want to put the other person first in all things. When we do that, we can love with a purity that will cover any sins [things we do that are bad] that our partners will do wrong. When we learn to love like that, we still will see negative things in our relationships, but we will also see that the love in that relationship is richer because we do not put ourselves first all the time. For me, that is the message of this poem.

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